MIAMI GARDENS — When you grow in up Alabama you want to be one of two things — an Auburn Tiger or an Alabama Crimson Tide.
Lamical Perine wanted to be different.
It’s why Perine spent his own money to get a bus ticket to Gainesville for Friday Night Lights to bet on himself. He didn’t have a scholarship offer to Florida at the time, but the bus ticket was his chance to earn one. He did and he committed to Florida.
Perine bet on himself. When Gus Malzahn told Perine he didn’t think he had the speed to play running back at Auburn, he filed it away. When Saban tried to get him to flip, Perine’s loyalty to Florida made him one of the few people to tell Saban no.
Monday night, more than four years after that bus ride and gamble on himself Perine stood at midfield, after rushing for 138 yards and scoring three touchdowns, in Hard Rock Stadium and hoisted the Orange Bowl MVP above his head.
It was the perfect exclamation point to his career.
“I’m so proud of him,” Perine’s best friend on the team Jeawon Taylor said after the game. “His performance tonight was long overdue. There were rumors that he wasn’t better than last year but every time adversity hit he just performed.”
Perine chose to come back for his senior year. He led the Gators in rushing as a sophomore and a junior but wanted to come back and earn his degree and play one more season. He was poised to have a great year but the Gators’ never got their running game going, which was not his fault. Perine actually had less carries his senior season than he did in his previous two years but he was involved more in the passing game, finishing third on the team in receptions (40).
The season didn’t go the way Perine planned but he never complained. There was never a cross word or sarcastic comment. He showed up every day to work and fit into whatever role the team needed him to play that week.
When the stage was biggest and the lights were brightest, he was there.
“His stats say this or just what the stats say. But you know what, you look at every time we needed a big run during the season, he came up with a lot of big runs during the season. He also showed he’s probably one of the top receiving backs in the country coming out of the backfield,” Dan Mullen said of Perine. “Instead of worrying about, hey, where are my rushing stats, he worried about am I doing what I need to do to help the team win and to be the great player on the team when the game is on the line that they can go to me, run or throw or protect the quarterback, and I’m going to be ready to make a play.”
That is what will stick out most about Perine. He came back for his senior season to get a degree but to also help his NFL Draft stock. If you look at his numbers he had fewer carries and less rushing yards than the year before but everything else he did was better. He was better in pass protection and as a pass-catcher. He developed into a leader and was universally loved and respected in his locker room.
“That’s my brother for life,” Taylor said. “I can’t explain it. We have a friendship that can’t be broken.”
Perine will leave Florida with more than 4,000 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns. He’s leaving more than just stats behind. He’s left a legacy. He’s an example for the next great football player from Alabama. You have more than two options. You can carve your own path and create your own way.
He did it his way and he wouldn’t change it for the world.
“These past two years, man, have just been an amazing feeling, just having a guy who knows how to win at Florida and has already won championships,” Perine said. “Me being able to believe in that and just trusting the process that he had for us, it was just an amazing feeling.”